UK VFX Union featured on fxguide podcast!

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Paul Evans, the BECTU national official for the vfx branch and Joe Pavlo, the vfx branch chair had a chat with Jeff Heuser from the fxguide podcast to talk about their work in the UK to establish a Visual Effects Union. A lot of ground was covered from the explosive growth of the vfx union in the UK over the last year, to some of the issues facing people working in the visual effects industry and a look ahead at the future of the union in the visual effects industry.

listen to the episode here:

fxpodcast #303: UK Union update

We discuss the latest info about UK visual effects artists who are seeking union representation. Joe Pavlo (artist) and Paul Evans (BECTU) are our guests. Unpaid overtime, fear, social media, how to organize, collusion, opting out of overtime… just a few of the things Joe and Paul discuss with our Jeff Heusser

also available to download in iTunes

Inspired? Why not come along to the Thursday VFX LunchMeet every week from 1-2pm in the courtyard at St. Anne’s Church, Wardour Street (nr. Shaftesbury Avenue) and find our more about the vfx union – or just cut to the chase and join the union right now!

Large BECTU survey points to serious concerns from MPC’s visual effects workers

full article on BECTU’s website here

Bare necessities missing for VFX workers at MPC

“Moving Picture Company appears to encapsulate everything that is wrong with employment in UK VFX in microcosm” says BECTU, the media and entertainment union.

In a large-scale survey of people who have worked at London’s Moving Picture Company (MPC), conducted in the week leading up to the UK premiere ofJungle Book, BECTU has found a workforce, both past and present, that has serious concerns about the company’s coercive working culture, with widespread complaints from world-class VFX artists about pressures to work excessive unpaid overtime.

In late 2015, BECTU started actively recruiting at MPC, which provided VFX services on Jungle Book.  In campaigning for union recognition, members were taken aback by management’s hostility to this move; recruitment literature was removed and discussion about the union was banned in staff forums. Thankfully, part of the company’s attempts to keep the union out resulted in small improvements to management attitudes towards their staff, but – as BECTU’s survey shows – significant concerns remain.

In particular, members were conscious of unfair pressure resulting from the company’s culture of short-term contracts. MPC has an employee-profile that dramatically contradicts UK Screen’s claims that “91% of the UK VFX workforce have a permanent contract.”

Short term contracts increase workplace pressures

Instead, MPC appears to have an overwhelming preference for short-term contracts, with a surprising number of individual respondents (in free-text comments) making a direct link between this and the climate of pressure from managers, particularly on unpaid overtime.

Significant numbers of staff were prepared to say that:

  • MPC is not interested in a fair dialogue with independently-minded employees
  • they have little faith in the ‘Crew Forum’ as a means of resolving problems fairly (current employees were significantly sceptical)
  • work-life balance for VFX artists at MPC is often very bad.

There were widespread fears around:

  • refusing to work unpaid overtime
  • raising legitimate grievances with management
  • management finding out about individuals’ BECTU membership.

There was a significant number of respondents who complained of “unwelcome pressure” or feeling harassed by colleagues / management, and an even larger number of respondents who said that they knew of colleagues who had experienced such pressure. A very clear majority of the respondents who knew about unwelcome pressure believed that reporting such behaviour would be frowned upon (in many cases because management were the ones behaving badly).

Paul Evans, BECTU national official, supporting VFX workers said:

“These results are very disturbing and we hope that MPC will agree to work with us on a full independent survey on this subject so that it can be dealt with properly. The VFX sector is now a central part of the UK film industry. It is astonishing that most survey respondents were frightened that MPC would find out that they are members of a trade union, and that there was a widespread fear of raising concerns, reporting unwelcome pressure and asking for a responsive management.

“MPC appears to encapsulate everything that is wrong with employment in UK VFX in microcosm – particularly the way the business is structured to pressure people into working long hours without being paid for overtime. In a few clear cases, respondents reported direct bullying and intimidation from managers.

“If the UK VFX industry is to retain the talent that it needs to survive and grow, it needs to be a race to the top, and not to the bottom. We need London to lose its reputation for excessive unpaid overtime, and this forms part of BECTU’s wider campaign to ensure that everyone in the film industry is paid for all of the hours that they work.”

 

BECTU is the media and entertainment union for the UK

read the full article on BECTU’s website here

 

This Thursday and every Thursday, union members and other vfx people get together at our weekly lunch meet where we chat about things that are important to people in the vfx industry.

We will be meeting this Thursday April 14th  1:00 – 2:00 pm  @ Kingley Ct, Carnaby St. 

Look for the green flag!

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MPC argument against unionisation no. 5

MPC says: ‘A union could mean that just 40% of the workers can decide the fate of everyone else’

This is either a misunderstanding of how union recognition works, or is a deliberate attempt to put workers off of unionisation by spreading misinformation about it. Don’t just take our word for it, feel free to check up on any of these facts yourself (this page by the UK government confirms it, as does the UK government’s full PDF guide to recognition). Let’s take a simplified look at how membership numbers affect a recognition bid.

Once a recognition bid has started, checks are made at several points throughout the process to make sure that the union still has enough support for the bid to continue. If at any point the numbers aren’t high enough, then the bid ends immediately and recognition is refused. The required membership level gets higher with each check as the bid develops:

  1. For a bid to start, the union only needs 10% of the chosen department to be members.
    Note: 10% is only a minimum. A recognition bid requires a union to commit significant time and resources, and are therefore not started lightly. It would be highly foolish for a union to start a bid with a membership level as low as 10%, and in practice most unions – including BECTU – will insist on a much higher and fairer membership level before they’ll even consider launching a recognition bid.
  2. Halfway through the recognition process, in order for the bid to proceed to the CAC, the union needs to show that a majority of workers in the chosen department “would be likely to favour union recognition”. For it to be able to do this, the union will either need at least 40% of the department to be members, or it’ll need some other demonstration of support (like a petition signed by the majority of the department for example).
  3. In the final stages of a bid, one last membership check is made. If the union’s membership includes over 50% of the chosen department, then recognition is granted immediately. Otherwise, if the union has 40%-50% of the chosen department, then a ballot is held – and recognition is only granted if over 50% of those who vote in the ballot are in favour of recognition. The vote is ruled to be invalid if less than 40% of the department as a whole took part. This is a higher standard than UK elections, where in 2015 the conservatives won a majority with 37% of the vote , and where no required minimum turnout rule exists at all (in 1998 turnout in one local election was just 28.8%).

So as you can see, this worry has no basis. Recognition bids are hard – deliberately so. It would be very, very difficult for a bid to be successful if only 40% of the department supported it. The only way this could happen is if either (1) the company chose to immediately grant voluntary recognition in step 1 without checking via ACAS that the union had enough support, or (2) if most of those in the department against recognition for some reason decided not to vote.

If a VFX company is genuinely concerned about “40% of the workers deciding the fate of everyone else”, then we would invite them to talk to BECTU. BECTU would be happy to correct any misconceptions they might have about recognition. BECTU can also give the company a rough anonymised idea of membership level in initial talks via a third party such ACAS to assure them that the membership level is high enough. From the conversations we’ve had with VFX workers and the feedback we’ve had so far, we can safely predict that it is a lot more than “just 40%” of our departments that want to see a positive change in the VFX industry!…

– See more at: http://vfxforum.org/faq/#what_arguments_has_mpc_given_against_unionisation_so_far

MPC argument against unionisation no. 4

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MPC says: ‘For things to get fairer for everyone, seniors, leads and supes will have to accept a pay cut.’

Again, not true – this is an attempt to turn different workers against each other. Our response to this is exactly the same as the response that we gave for “pay-banding” and “the pit is not bottomless”:

  • Members get to vote on any proposed agreement that changes how pay or other key parts of our working conditions are run. If enough members are unhappy with a proposed agreement, then it will be rejected and it simply won’t come into force. If a new agreement was voted in by members, then it would be because a majority were unhappy with the old agreement, and a new agreement was therefore necessary anyway. No agreement will come into force without the members’ approval.
  • It’s not in a union’s interest to push a company out of business or to make it less efficient than competitors – workers would lose jobs, and the union will lose members. Remember that unions make their workforces more efficient, not less`.

It’s impossible to say with any certainty what exact terms will come out of negotiations between BECTU and a VFX company if a recognition bid is successful. The question that workers at MPC should be asking themselves right now is not “What will the results be for me financially?”, but rather “Are we being treated fairly by our employers right now, and if not, would we like a union to work on our behalf to try to improve the situation?”

– See more at: http://vfxforum.org/faq/#what_arguments_has_mpc_given_against_unionisation_so_far

 

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BIG LONDON VFX MEETING

WED 13 JAN

It’s selling out! Register to ensure your place (free) bit.ly/unionise

MPC argument against unionisation no. 3

rewards-to-increase-employee-productivity

MPC says: ‘If a union is recognised, then it’s no longer possible for us to reward good workers with pay increases’

Again, not true. Just because a union has been recognised, it doesn’t mean that pay agreements with the workers suddenly magically change. The relationship between the workers, a recognised union and a company normally works like this:

  1. The members at a company are unhappy. They speak to their elected union rep, and it becomes clear that a majority of them want to see some kind of change in their working conditions (like paid overtime for example).
  2. The union rep brings this issue to the union’s attention, and asks the union to begin negotiations with the company about it.
  3. The union negotiates with management at the company on behalf of its members, and tries to come up with a proposed agreement that gives the workers what they are asking for. If this isn’t possible, then the union will try to find an alternate proposed agreement that at least goes part-way.
  4. If a proposed agreement was found, then the union presents this proposed agreement to their members, and the members vote on it. If enough members are in favour of it, then the agreement comes into force. If the members reject it or if no proposed agreement was reached, then the members decide what to do next – whether to ask BECTU to go for a different deal, or whether to give up on their demands, or whether to consider industrial action of some sort to put pressure the company (such as refusing to work excessive overtime).

So just because a department chose to unionise through BECTU, it doesn’t mean that pay banding would automatically have to come into effect. It would only come in if the members wanted it, an agreement was reached, and a majority of those members voted for it. If a department feels that they are already fairly rewarded for good work and that the system isn’t being abused, then they’d have no reason to ask for and vote in favour of a different pay structure that gets rid of it.

Even if workers did choose to vote for pay banding or rate-cards at some point in the future, pay banding is more commonly implemented as a minimum anyway, i.e. “as a lead compositor, you should be paid at least £XXX per hour”. There’s no reason that a rate-card or pay-banding system should stop a company from paying talented individuals more than the minimum rate. If you don’t believe us, then have a look at a genuine BECTU rate card (PDF) for the camera branch, and see for yourself.

Finally, remember that any future decision we make over pay-banding/rate cards is completely separate from the question of whether we should unionise or not. The question is not “What will the results be for me financially?”, but rather “Are we being treated fairly by our employers right now, and if not, would we like a union to work on our behalf to try to improve the situation?”

– See more at: http://vfxforum.org/faq/#what_arguments_has_mpc_given_against_unionisation_so_far

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BIG LONDON VFX MEETING 
WED 13 JAN
It’s selling out! Register to ensure your place (free) bit.ly/unionise 

MPC argument against unionisation no. 2

Squeezed-coin-between-fin-007MPC says: ‘If one department unionises, then we’ll have to cut everyone else’s pay by 20% to pay for it’

It’s hard to take this excuse as anything other than blackmail, and an attempt to turn VFX workers against each other.

As we’ve discussed elsewhere, when a union is recognised it doesn’t somehow mean that every worker instantly gets suddenly becomes more expensive, or that everyone instantly gets paid overtime. When a union is first recognised, nothing changes at all beyond the fact that the company is now required to talk to the union, and must give access to the information they need to be able to do their job (profit margins, pay scales, employee lists, etc). If MPC chose to cut everyone else’s pay as a bizarre form of “collective punishment”, then there would be absolutely no reason for them to do this other than greed – they would be using the union as a convenient excuse to increase profits by reducing wages. If this came to pass and these other departments felt unhappy at being punished like this, then BECTU would welcome them with open arms, and would be happy to start fighting for their rights too.

Remember, unionisation is a basic legal right that almost everyone in the UK has – why should MPC punish its workers simply for exercising their rights? What if instead of putting all this time and effort into fighting unionisation, MPC put the same time and effort into collaborating with the union to end worker exploitation and excessive overtime instead?

– See more at: http://vfxforum.org/faq/#what_arguments_has_mpc_given_against_unionisation_so_far

 TheUnionAwakensCrop
BIG LONDON VFX MEETING
WED 13 JAN
It’s selling out! Register to ensure your place (free) bit.ly/unionise